Get all of Jeremy Fuchs’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
BROOKLYN — Defenseman Thomas Hickey broke a 3–3 tie in overtime to propel the Islanders to a 4–3 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 3 at Barclays Center.
Defenseman Ryan Pulock had a goal and an assist, while John Tavares added two helpers. Reilly Smith continued his hot playoff scoring, with a goal and two assists that upped his total to eight points though the first three games, while Aleksander Barkov added his first career playoff tally.
The victory put the Islanders ahead in the series at 2–1. Game 4 is Wednesday night in Brooklyn.
Here are three thoughts on Sunday night’s game:
Coach knows best
This is the first year of the coach’s challenge, which works very similar to the NFL's, and Sunday was the first time it changed a game in this series. The Islanders challenged an Aaron Ekblad goal in the second period that would have put the Panthers up 3–0. The refs ruled that Florida was offside, and soon after the Islanders found their game. Prior to the challenge, the Panthers were absolutely dominating the second period and it looked like the Isles were going to be blown out. The decision by Jack coach Capuano to throw the flag changed the game and might’ve changed the series. Shane Prince narrowed the gap to 3-2 at 11:48 and Frans Nielsen knotted the score at 16:55. Though the third period would be scoreless, the reversal of Ekblad's goal clearly gave the Islanders new life and confidence.
Entering this postseason, winger Reilly Smith had 12 games of postseason experience, all with the Bruins, from whom he was acquired in a trade for Jimmy Hayes last July. Reillly had scored four goals for Boston. Through three games of the 2016 postseason, he has four goals and four assists. Smith, whose 25 regular season goals were a career high, was often the best player on the ice, creating scoring chances with his skating ability and stickhandling. He has sparked the Panthers and helped them offset a lack of production by Jaromir Jagr, who has been kept off the scoresheet thus far.
Brooklyn in the house
There were no “Spacey Faceys” in Brooklyn and no plastic rats, just raw, pure energy. The crowd roared en masse at an ear-splitting level at every Matt Martin hit, every quality chance, every big goal. This game was quite unlike any other home game this season. The Islanders ranked 28th in the league in average attendance, at just 13,626 fans per contest. But you wouldn’t know it based on Sunday’s activity. The crowd became an advantage for the Isles, who used the energy from the coach’s challenge to get back in the game. With potentially two more games in Brooklyn, don’t be surprised if this series hinges on who can win at home.